Have you ever wondered about how snakes have babies? Perhaps you know that the exact methods can vary between species, so you’re wondering specifically about cottonmouths. How do cottonmouth snakes reproduce? Do they lay eggs or give birth to live young? How many babies do they have? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions.
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How Do Cottonmouth Snakes Reproduce?
Cottonmouth snakes usually reproduce every two to three years. In most cases they have litters of 6 to 8 babies, though they can have as many as 20 babies at a time.
Cottonmouths typically mate in the spring, though they can do so at any time throughout the year. Male cottonmouths can begin reproducing at two years old, while females aren’t sexually mature until the age of three.
Before mating, males will perform a “combat dance,” during which time two or more males will compete for the right to mate with a single female. This dance typically involves the males lifting their bodies in a “fighting stance” and wrapping around each other, as you can see in the following video:
This combat dance isn’t usually a fight to the death; the losing males simply give up after a time and slither away, leaving the dominant male to mate with the female. Cottonmouths appear to be monogamous, meaning they only mate with one partner at a time.
Most cottonmouths reproduce via copulation between a male and female. However, if there are no suitable males available, female cottonmouths can produce offspring on their own through asexual reproduction.
Do Cottonmouth Snakes Lay Eggs or Give Birth?
Cottonmouths are ovoviviparous. This means they carry eggs that hatch inside their bodies, then give birth to live young.
Cottonmouths have a gestational period of about five months. During this time, the eggs grow and develop inside the female’s body.
When they are ready to hatch, they hatch out inside the mother; she doesn’t lay the eggs. Instead, she gives birth to the babies once they have hatched from their eggs.
This process is common to many snakes, especially pit vipers. Since cottonmouths are a type of pit viper, it isn’t surprising that their young are born in this manner.
Mother cottonmouths may stay with their young for a short period of time after they are born to protect them from predators. But baby cottonmouths are largely independent from the moment of their birth, as they must hunt for themselves and learn to avoid predators on their own.
As a result, most young cottonmouths die before reaching maturity. They have many predators in the wild and are often eaten by birds of prey, snapping turtles, alligators, and even some humans.
How Many Babies Do Cottonmouth Snakes Have?
On average, cottonmouths give birth to between 6 and 8 babies every two to three years throughout their lifetime.
Sometimes, they may have up to 20 babies at a time. On the other hand, during times of food shortage or other poor conditions, they may only have one or two babies at a time.
As mentioned above, many of these babies die before reaching sexual maturity because of the variety of threats they face in the wild. Not only do they make easy targets for predators, but they are sometimes preyed on by adult members of their own species.
Those that make it to adulthood begin the process over again, with male cottonmouths beginning to reproduce at the age of two and females at the age of three. Because of their mating rituals, only the strongest and most dominant males are allowed to breed with the females, which ensures evolutionary success of the species.
The sex of cottonmouth babies is determined genetically, which is different from many reptiles; often, the sex is determined by environmental conditions such as temperature during the gestational period. This genetic selection is more similar to what we as humans are familiar with.
Cottonmouths reproduce both sexually and asexually; most often, reproduction occurs after a male has won dominance over other males in the area and has mated with a female.
The female then carries eggs inside her body for about five months; once they are fully developed, the eggs hatch inside of her, and she gives birth to live young. Btw, if you don’t know how dangerous cottonmouths are, read this article.